Is the BBC pogonophobic? Jeremy Paxman's beard raises a hairy issue

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Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman's new beard continued to trend on Twitter last night as the broadcaster accused the BBC of "pogonophobia" (fear of beards).

The journalist's hirsute appearance first drew attention on Monday night. And after a storm of reaction on social networking sites and in newspapers, Mr Paxman, 63, said that many at the BBC are pogonophobic, but that it was up to him whether he would revert back to his usual appearance or not.

He said: "I have grown a beard for the last few summers, and suddenly wondered whether I really needed to shave it off to present Newsnight.

"Unless you're lucky enough to be Uncle Albert on Only Fools And Horses, Demis Roussos or Abu Hamza, the BBC is generally as pogonophobic as the late-lamented Albanian dictator, Enver Hoxha.

"I may keep it or I may shave it off, but I think I'll make my own decision."

After Paxman accused the BBC of shunning on-screen beards, his former Newsnight colleague Martha Kearney broadcast an exchange which she had with Paxman which made him "sound a touch pogonophobic himself".

Kearney aired the conversation, which took place when she was a correspondent on Newsnight in 1997, on Radio 4 show World At One.

Paxman asked Kearney: "Why has he put Frank Dobson in charge of health, which he thinks allegedly is so important?"

When Kearney replied that it was because of Dobson's record in the shadow cabinet, Paxman replied: "But he's got a beard."

Kearney said that the exchange "completely left me for words".

Radio broadcaster Robin Lustig, a beard of the year winner, said that the BBC was pogonophobic.

"On TV, yes definitely, the evidence is there. There's no bearded current affairs presenter," he said.

"Michael Buerk once was told to shave off his beard if he wanted to carry on presenting.

"I did a little bit of television and I was told (by an external consultant) if I seriously wanted to do more I would have to get rid of my beard."

Facial hair recently became popular but Lustig said that Paxman might be behind the times, telling World At One: "I'm told that beards are no longer in fashion."

However, Paxman's beard provoked far less serious comment on Twitter.

Paxman's BBC colleague Emily Maitlis tweeted: "Right that's it. I'm working on a moustache for Thursday's Newsnight".

Crime writer Ian Rankin, who wrote: "It is 1973 and I'm really digging the new album by Paxman's Beard."

Classicist and BBC presenter Mary Beard wrote: "Blimey, I've been away for four days and while I have been away Jeremy Paxman has grown a beard!"

Comedian Jenny Eclair said: "I like Paxman's beard, looks like he might ride a Harley come the weekend."

Presenter Kirstie Allsopp wrote: "Paxo with a beard is like me going blonde, there are just some things that are not meant to be."

Comedian Al Murray wrote: "Not seen the Paxman beard or the Perseids (meteor shower). Feel so, so alone."

BBC radio presenter Shelagh Fogarty said: "Mr Paxman's beard proving it isn't just women's appearance on TV that people obsess about. Will it be kitten heels tomorrow?"

Broadcaster Danny Baker said: "I really do not think Jeremy Paxman should be granted a beard. It's corrupt. Disney had it right. Hey BBC - no news beards."

He added: "Do you think a single person in the news room had the balls to say 'Hey Jeremy. The beard. You look f***ing ridiculous'."

Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason wrote: "The rumour is they are screentesting for Tom Bombadil in the third Peter Jackson Hobbit movie".

ITV news presenter Alastair Stewart wrote of the University Challenge star's appearance: "Chilling to think how many readers/viewers just might not get the 'Paxman-beard-Newsnight' thing. Nor find it funny. Nor care. 'Nuff said."

Others compared Paxman's appearance to Father Christmas or Ben Fogle stranded on a desert island.

The BBC has recently come under fire for under-representing women. But of its male workforce a surprisingly small number sport regular facial hair.

Among the rare exceptions are Paul Hollywood, of the Great British Bake Off , and Si King and Dave Myers aka The Hairy Bikers Cafe.

Additional reporting from PA

Here is our selection of some brilliant beards:

Doctor Who actor David Tennant with a neat beard Doctor Who actor David Tennant with a neat beard   Brian Blessed who is just as well known for his beard as he is for his booming voice Brian Blessed who is just as well known for his beard as he is for his booming voice

Billy Connolly opts for a smart moustache and beard combination Billy Connolly opts for a smart moustache and beard combination that matches his long grey hair

Peter Capaldi sports an interesting moustache and goatee combination Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, the new Doctor, sports an interesting moustache and goatee combination

Richard Branson's beard and hairstyle are part of his public personality (Getty Images) Richard Branson's beard and hairstyle are part of his public personality  

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